Rwanda: Inside NESA’s National Examination Marking Centres

Today, if you went to Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare (GSOB), entering would require special authorisation as the school is currently serving as one of the national examination marking centres.

Marking exam papers is underway for Primary Leaving Examinations, Ordinary Level as well as Advanced Level examinations.

On August 22, I was among journalists who were permitted to enter the centre at around 10:30 am, and darting my eyes around, I could see policemen standing beside rooms that were all busy but in silence.

Jean-Baptiste Kabarira, who introduced himself as the Chief Marker of the centre, disclosed that there were 472 markers working in 17 marking rooms and 232 checkers; some working in marking rooms and the rest in the marks-recording rooms.

Teachers mark exam papers inside the national examination marking centre at Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare, in Huye District, on August 22. Photo: Olivier Mugwiza.

He led us to a store room where they keep boxes that contain answer booklets of different students. The boxes were labelled with two alphabetical codes, which according to Kabarira, represent different schools and were used as a way of concealing information about them for markers and checkers not to reveal.

Kabarira testified that when markers arrive at the centre, they first go through a harmonising exercise -where they first sit for the same exam the students they are going to mark sat for. According to NESA, a marker has to score over 60 per cent.

Those who pass the examination gather to develop a marking guide, coming up with more alternative answers to questions asked in the exam to supplement the ones provided by NESA.

According to Kabarira, once the exam is ready, they mark the dummies – copies of one of the answer booklets of a student.

“All of us mark the same paper and see if we can do it in the same way,” he said. “We reach what we call consensus. After the exercise, we see if there is someone who deviated and exceeded the standard marking deviation of +2 or – 2. Those get disqualified. Those who stayed consistent without deviations are the ones ready for the actual marking.”

The actual marking

During the actual marking, markers are divided into several teams and when the team leader draws into the store room to pick envelopes that contain answer booklets, they first count them and record the number on a list before moving them to the marking room.

“It helps us in case he returns them after marking. We have to check if none was lost,” said Kabarira, before he led us to one of the marking rooms.

Here, teachers who were recruited for the marking activity are seated in teams. They work in what they call a “conveyor-belt system.” Each team is consisted of seven people: five markers who read and score the assigned number of questions (usually 3 to 5) by using red pens; a checker who uses a pencil to check if the total marks the markers indicated on the answer booklet is correct, and a team leader who checks if what both the markers and the checkers did is transparent and approves it by using a green pen.

Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare is one of the national examination marking centres.

They all do so while the space which contains identification of a student on the answer booklet is masked in black, to mean they neither know which student they are marking or where they study.

After marking and checking the answer booklets, they put them back in the envelopes. The Chief Marker then verifies if everything is as it should and approves that. Like the markers and checkers, they also write their names on the back of the envelope as well as their telephone number followed by their signature. That is important in case one needs to follow up or coordinate.

The booklets are later sent to marked recording rooms. It is at this stage where checkers unmask the identification of a student. After that, they take lists of students who sat for the national examination at a particular school and fill in the marks they scored in a specific subject accordingly.

These lists were printed out by NESA through its School Data Management System (SDMS).

Is the process similar while marking national examinations for advanced level?

Correct! At College du Christ-Roi in Nyanza District, the process is the same.

The school is one of the marking centres for the national examination for advanced level.

Around 532 (including markers, checkers and team leaders) have been deployed by NESA to read, verify and score answer booklets of different students who sat for History, Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics as well as Biology examinations.

Sylvie Ingabire Mwizerwa is the Chief Marker for Biology I and II papers at the centre. The papers are being worked on by 80 markers and 43 checkers.

According to Mwizerwa, they arrived at the centre on August 10, did the harmonising exercise and developed the marking guide just like it is done at GSOB.

When asked about their probability to make errors, she said it is almost equal to zero.

“At school, when you are marking your students alone, that’s when you can make some mistakes, and give students room to reclaim. But here, you are marking and the other person is cross-marking. The role of the student is being played by a professional teacher who is more knowledgeable. Besides, there are two more people who are there to check if there are no errors,” she said.

One of the challenges she pointed out is the insufficient amount of money that makers get per copy, declaring that it doesn’t match today’s market prices and that there should be consideration for an increment.

Mariam Namuddu, a team leader at GSOB marking centre, also sees low pay as a challenge given that a marker can work on 25 answer booklets per day and go back home with only Rwf 110,000 after spending an entire month on what she calls a mission. She called for an increment too.

Commenting on that, Bernard Bahati, Director General of NESA, said the institution is going to see if they can increase the money again, since they had already increased it in 2021.

Marking for Primary Leaving Examination

Located in Muhanga District, Groupe Scolaire Saint Joseph-Kabgayi is one of the marking centres for Primary Leaving Examination.

When we arrived at around 4:40 pm, we found the markers as well as checkers were going for a volleyball match that was taking place inside the school. According to NESA, they have completed the marking phase and are now at a step of recording the marks in SDMS by using computers.

Packages of National Examination papers in the store at Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare in Huye

In the recording room that is found at the school, five of them were busy on laptops doing the job.

According to Bahati, after entering the marks in the system, the lists that contain marks are again printed out and cross-checked against other physical mark sheets to see if they match and are error-free.

At the centre, the marked answer booklets are kept in boxes and put in the store room and will be moved back to NESA the day the entire marking activity will be done.

We left the centre when some markers and checkers were still playing volleyball, hollering at their frequent scores – something Bahati said they normally do after work to relax and retain fresh minds.

What else does NESA say?

Marking for all national examinations will be concluded end of August 2022. Bahati revealed that arrangements for national examinations cost Rwf 13 billion.

Tackling the criteria the institution bases on to select markers and checkers, he said that one has to be a teacher and teaching a subject they would like to mark, they also must have integrity and hold an experience of at least two years.

According to Bahati, NESA tightly controls the entire examination journey because it deals with marks that inform the institution on decisions that will impact a candidate’s future and that it’s as a way of avoiding malpractices.

The ongoing activities of marking exam papersfor Primary Leaving Examinations, Ordinary Level as well as Advanced Level examinations

Talking about the advantages of the conveyor-belt system over the former system where the whole answer booklet would be marked by one marker, Bahati said that since it was introduced, it strongly minimised errors and claims of different students, their schools as well as parents.

“We do as much as we can to minimise errors that can be committed throughout the entire national examination process,” he said, adding that a candidate who is not satisfied with results has the right to appeal for rechecking or remarking although they have to pass through their respective schools since NESA believes they are the ones who really know the candidate and can then file a request to NESA accordingly.

Some teachet during the ongoing activities of marking exam papers for Primary Leaving Examinations, Ordinary Level as well as Advanced Level examinations

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